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by Todd Gilchrist
August 10, 2012 9:11 AM
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Critic's Notebook: Why 'Bourne Legacy' Isn't As Mature As It Thinks -- And What You Should See Instead

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne Universal Pictures

Jason Bourne, by all accounts, was a cold-blooded and highly-trained -- but by all accounts fully human -- killer who awoke one day in the body of a disillusioned amnesiac; Aaron Cross is a gregarious charmer who only incidentally happens to kill people for a living, and with abilities granted to him by daily ingestion of little blue and red pills. That writer-director Tony Gilroy abandons the core identity (no pun intended) of the protagonist of the series -- a soulless, murderous automaton reconnecting with his humanity -- is dispiriting enough. But Gilroy further betrays the complexity of Damon's characterization of this world of black-ops killers by putting Cross only in defensive situations, and with one exception not showing anything from his history before he's disowned by his superiors.

But the larger problem is that the "man on the run" scenario that Gilroy throws Cross into feels hackneyed and familiar, no matter how desperately he tries first to contextualize it in the events of the first three films, and then attempt to bury its exhausted clichés with unnecessary, overwrought "complications." Although the groundwork for a rabbit-hole of shadowy government organizations was laid out in the first three films, the introduction of a new program -- "Outcome" -- instantly becomes comical, not the least of which because it seems to allow the filmmakers to have it both ways: to enjoy a tenuous link to "Legacy"'s predecessors, and introduce an "original" umbrella group whose members can operate independent of the characters we've previously seen.

Either way, it certainly doesn’t help that the first hour of the film is one long montage that cuts back and forth between Cross’ adventures before he's disavowed and flashbacks to what is "currently" happening with Treadstone and Blackbriar. Are we supposed to connect the two in some meaningful way, or simply be reminded of the government's untrustworthiness and then move forward with Cross's travails?
What's more infuriating is that this isn't deliberate mystery; Gilroy isn’t actively trying to lead the audience only to let them catch up later. He's really attempting to explain the absurd tangential connection "Legacy" has to the previous "Bourne" films, so that when the "real" plot takes over, audiences can simply take the ride and follow along.

Meanwhile, the crosscutting feels like a desperate victory lap for the filmmaker’s past accomplishments; notwithstanding the fact that Gilroy seems more interested in what’s going on behind closed doors with Byer than on the run with Cross, he's not merely drafting a blueprint for the mythology but reminding audiences how awesomely he once explored it. (This admittedly feels less deliberate than incidental -- the failures of this film only highlight the strengths of the others.)
As much as Rachel Weisz has matured into an incredibly capable and versatile actress, she takes a great leap backward as the doctor whom Cross protects, recalling her work as the bookish characters she played in the "Mummy" films and the Keanu Reeves thriller "Chain Reaction." While she convincingly plays a traumatized biologist, she exists for no other discernible purpose than to allow Renner to play Cross more sensitively, which subsequently gives his character no emotional journey, unless "oh man, people I used to work for are trying to kill me…that sucks" counts.


  • Nightmare | August 10, 2012 10:16 AMReply

    It was pretty awesome to me!! But I do understand the flaws in the script. The actors were great in the movie, but the blame goes to the director/writer. In the end, it depends on how the person enjoyed the movie.

  • Katalin | August 10, 2012 10:06 AMReply

    Rachel Weisz not only manages make Jeremy Renner look good in this film (And he's bore as the lead) but manages to give the film's only real and effective performance. With out her efforts to be better than the bad material and the thin character she plays, "The Bourne legacy" would have been literally unwatchable.

  • Christopher Campbell | August 10, 2012 9:40 AMReply

    As I said before, I think you totally missed what was going on in this movie while you were "bored," a criticism by the way that I find extremely boring. People are bored with every film on the Sight & Sound 50, so that's just a lazy way of saying you weren't willing to or interested in engaging yourself in the work. That's fine; action movies should be entertainment. Still, I was also entertained.

    I also think it's lazy to look at sequels and Hollywood's desire to stretch franchises and properties out like this as entirely despicable. Many smart and talented filmmakers manage to do great things even if the studio is only concerned with profits, and Tony Gilroy finds very fresh and interesting and intelligent things to do with the spin-off that I do not consider repetitive nor rehash.

    Anyway, I'm sure you'd like me to go on, but I have other things to do than explain or critique films to people for free. Ask IW to bring Spout back and I'll analyze the whole thing.

  • Christopher Campbell | August 10, 2012 2:03 PM

    I don't consider your review lazy, just that one particular criticism. I think you are a very hard working critic. You even manage to stretch out some reviews to multiple outlets, which I don't see as being any different from what Hollywood does with its franchises if you all have enough to say (and of course you do, as does Gilroy). But being bored by something neither makes it bad nor is it proper for film analysis if that's what this is (I don't think it is, since you don't go into details; this is a review). And since you had three pages worth of material, obviously the film didn't bore you. If it had genuinely bored you, you wouldn't have anything to say about it. I respect that you have an opinion of the movie, but I don't think you need to act like your opinion and response will carry over to everyone. Many people will just as easily be bored by The Raid and Sleepless Night. And find their characters hard to sympathize with and find them to be pointless stories. And sorry, but while I can comment on your review I can not offer my own adequate review, critique or analysis of a movie that I don't find boring or to be anything close to an afterthought in a comment section for free. Besides, it would be pointless. I'm not going to get you to reconsider your point of view.

  • Todd Gilchrist | August 10, 2012 12:49 PM

    Three pages of analysis and not only am I lazy, but all you took away from this is "I was bored." And thanks for reminding me you have other things to do -- otherwise I might understand what it is that you responded to in the film, and even possibly reconsider my point of view.

  • kitcon | August 10, 2012 9:38 AMReply

    Agree. I didn't feel any reason to root for a super-agent pill junkie desperate for his next fix. A simple connection with Jason would have sufficed instead of regurgitating so many scenes from Ultimatum. The climactic chase through Manila also dragged on with too many of the same shots of them weaving through traffic. Really poor script.